"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." -- William Arthur Ward.
As a spiritual practice, gratitude establishes a context for seeing everything in a new light, which becomes an opening for something greater to occur. As we find even just one thing to be grateful for, we are opening up the channels for more to enter. I now understand that gratitude is a commitment to well-being. Feeling grateful inwardly is good, of course, for our own personal health and happiness; expressing our gratitude outwardly is good for everyone involved and is very likely to lead to positive changes.
Once in a while, I happen to think of a professor, teacher, colleague, a friend and anyone else who had a beneficial effect on my life. Rather than just letting these images float by unnoticed, I decided to create an Excel spreadsheet with columns to capture the person's name, their role in my life, what they did specifically to help me, what happened as a result of their help, and what might have happened differently in my life, had that person not mentored me in my life.
Not only does this spreadsheet elevate my own sense of gratitude, but it also helps me look for ways in which I may serve as a mentor or a positive role model in someone else's life -- both these ideas expand my feeling of zest and dedication to deliberately looking out for ways to be a beneficial presence. Sir Isaac Newton recommended being appreciative of those who have opened the way for us. He said that his discoveries were possible only because he was able to stand on the shoulders of the giants who had gone before. In a way, our mentors are our giants. They have opened the way by showing that they have faith in us to use our talents for spreading greater goodness in life.
Dr. Martin Seligman, father of the modern positive psychology movement, suggests that we take it even further, with what he calls "gratitude visits". Here's how it works: Think of someone who has helped you, been kind to you, made a difference in your life -- to whom you have never expressed your thanks. Write a letter clearly outlining what he or she did and how much it meant to you. Set up a meeting, and then read the letter to that person out loud. Make this the whole point of the visit, and give him or her a copy of the letter to keep; in many cases, both the letter's author and the receiver will be deeply touched, moved by the spirit of gratitude.
Typically in the past, when I wanted to express my sincere gratitude to someone I would hesitate to send a note or even call them, thinking it might be intrusive or inappropriate. After suffering a health crisis, I overcame this hesitation toward all those who were there for me and made it my top priority to take the time to express my sincere appreciation of their loving support and kindness. According to research I was actually 'up-leveling' my own well-being in realizing and sharing my grateful thoughts with these people. I intend to make this simple, straightforward communication an automatic response, which I know now is a helpful and healthy habit for all of us.